Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 315

In these essays, speeches, and meditations spanning four decades of a career which features stunning achievements, Toni Morrison includes numerous themes that have occupied her in many of her works. Several prominent themes are home and displacement, race and the tenacity of racism, and the ongoing importance of literature and the writer. The collection includes Morrison’s Nobel Prize acceptance lecture, which touches on all those themes.

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The idea of home as a central concern for human beings—and one that is out of reach for many people at different times in their lives—serves as a unifying them that draws together elements of the other themes. Morrison explores this idea in an essay on foreigners and homes. For African people who were kidnapped and taken against their will across the ocean, a sense of home was a memory more than a reality. The idea of diaspora as a thread connecting diverse peoples who have been displaced is offered as a common bond.

Looking at race and the unfortunate intractability of racist ideologies, the author goes back to the early years of European’s trafficking in human cargo from Africa to the Americas, reminding the reader how some were enriched by depriving others of liberty. She examines the impact of the slavery system in the United States, including reflections on her own works that treated this horror in fictional form. Primary among those is her Pulitzer-prize winning novel Beloved.

Morrison’s attention to the role of literature includes discussion of several important African American writers. She examines the ongoing significance of language as a key element of the daily struggles for dignity and human as well as civil rights. She pays special attention to James Baldwin, whose many years of living in largely self-imposed exile connect the themes of race and displacement; this discussion is framed primarily in the eulogy she delivered for him in 1987.

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